The Census Bureau’s latest Public Education Finances Report is out, and it shows that employee benefits continue to take on a rising share of district expenditures.

The table below uses 20 years of data (all years that are available online) to show total current expenditures (i.e. it excludes capital costs and debt), expenditures on base salaries and wages, and expenditures on benefits like retirement coverage, health insurance, tuition reimbursements, and unemployment compensation. Although it would be interesting to sort out which of these benefits have increased the most, the data don’t allow us to draw those granular conclusions. But they do tell us that teachers and district employees are forgoing wage increases on behalf of benefit enhancements.

From 2001 to 2012 alone, public education spending increased 49 percent, but, while salaries and wages increased 36 percent, employee benefits increased 96 percent. Twenty years ago, districts spent more than four dollars in wages to every one dollar they spent on benefits. Now that ratio has dropped under three-to-one. Benefits now eat up more than 20 percent of district budgets, or $2,363 per student, and those numbers are climbing.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

This is not a good trend. Instead of hiring more teachers or paying them more money, districts are devoting an increasing share of finite resources to employee benefits.

-Chad Aldeman

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Last updated June 4, 2014